Ruth Valerio's latest offering provides practical and inspiring ways to live more ethical lives that honour our environment, our natural resources, our global neighbours - and the God who made it all. She argues with passion and rationale in equal measure to redefine 21st Century Christian living, Jenny Symmons writes.
I approached Ruth Valerio’s new book, Just Living: Faith and Community in an Age of Consumerism, with interest, having heard good things about her previous work (L is for Lifestyle, 2004). Pioneers such as Valerio and her contemporary Shane Claiborne have brought this issue to the fore (certainly for people of my generation), but whilst I was aware of a lot of the theory behind why Christians should live ethical lives – I definitely wasn’t applying it to my own life.
It’s fair to say that Just Living has been totally transformative for me in that respect. The way I shop, the way I spend, the way I cook, the way I think – Valerio challenged me to the core of my way of life, provoking me to completely overhaul my habits. There were questions I couldn’t ignore anymore; what high street chains am I putting money into that, further up the production chain, exploit their suffering workers? What investments do I make that channel money into the arms trade? Why should I think that, when it comes to paying £1 extra for Fairtrade teabags, my money is more precious than someone’s quality of life?
Blending theological scholarship with a frank discussion on climate change, Valerio makes it clear that an adaption to our lifestyle is simple, crucial, and urgent for Christians – and it has a Biblical mandate. Even if one were to just take Genesis 1 as the instructive passage, that alone lays out clearly our role in stewarding over the world that has been lovingly created. Over the course of her writing Valerio unpacks how this expectation of stewardship plays out across the different areas of our lives, covering everything from vegetarianism, to energy suppliers, to political engagement.
It becomes increasingly clear that Christians are called to live radically different lives, in a way that loves our world and the people in it. Valerio’s emphasis on the importance of community is a strong reminder that in the midst of a culture that prioritises individualism as a means of empowerment, we were created to have relationships with one another and put others before ourselves. In this sense, Valerio illustrates how it is as important to make choices that love our global neighbour on the other side of the world, as it is to love those who live just next door.
Just Living acts partly as an instruction manual for putting ethical principles into practice, and partly as a collection of inspirational stories of people seeking to live out this holistic Christian lifestyle. It is simultaneously convicting and uplifting, as Valerio gently alerts us to the huge, imminent issues facing the planet from our own greed and excess, and then lays out in part three practical things we can do about it. It is a great resource both for people new to the topic and people who have integrated justice-seeking into their lives for years. From the beginning huge concepts such as globalization and consumerism are broken down, and the conversational tone makes it accessible to anyone open-minded on the issue. It is ideal for group study; in fact, a Christian society I am involved with at my university (Just Love) have begun a book group to work through Just Living, supporting and challenging one another with discussion and prayer.
Ruth Valerio ushers us into a new age of Christian living with patience and encouragement. We have received a call to not see ethical choices as an optional add-on to our lifestyles, there for the ‘hippy’ few but not mainstream Christians, but as an essential way of making our lives glorify our Creator and the creation we live in. It is a book that wakes you up from a state of ignorant comfort, but makes you glad for the disturbance; it can only mean giving you more ways to love God, love people, and have hope for a future where our planet will have some of its goodness restored by us making selfless, ethically-conscious choices in our daily lives.
Jenny Symmons is a member and volunteer from Bristol, currently a final year student at the University of Glasgow.